I really do get bored with many of my wildlife “portraits.” Many images are just record shots of a species…Often they don’t tell you much about the critter, its behavior, or habitat. Plus, many other photographers have taken the same shot..and probably have better portrait photos of that species anyway.

Because of this I always try to take some creative wildlife photos on each trip. I detail TEN techniques below. Try one or two on your next wildlife photo shoot.

SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD

On this late April trip to Yellowstone National Park, my main creative endeavor was the shallow-depth-of-field wildlife shot. I accomplished this mainly via the Canon 200mm f2.0 lens that I rented from lensrentals.com. You can see that post and photos here.

ANIMALS IN THE LANDSCAPE

Black Bear in pines wide snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05115

Though taken handheld with a crappy kit lens (the Canon 18-55mm lens), I really like how this Black Bear photo turned out (the Clarity slider in Lightroom helped a lot!). Animal-in-the-landscape images really help us visualize the critter’s home

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 46mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Elk herd along Yellowstone River wide Yellowstone National Park WY -04788

Another almost surreal wildlife photo. There is something I really love about this elk herd photo…I think it’s that it has the quality of a composite image…as if I took 30 photos of a single elk from this one spot and then melded them together in Photoshop.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens (Metabones adapter); 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Mountain Bluebird on pine in snowy background Yellowstone National Park WY -04865

Mountain Bluebird in snowy landscape. Our tendency as wildlife photographers is to fill the frame with our subject…It takes real mental effort to NOT do this, and to step back and allow the critter to have equal (or lesser) presence in the landscape.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld]

SILHOUETTES

Gray skies?…Back light?…These are tough situations for a wildlife photographer. But you can always experiment with silhouettes in these cases. You do need a sky background usually though.

Mule Deer silhouette Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND-0814

Mule Deer silhouette. On our way home from Yellowstone each year, we camp overnight in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It breaks up the 17-hour drive home and allows us to get in just a little more shooting. This would have been a terrible image if I’d exposed for the deer themselves, but a the silhouette is quite nice.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/3200 at f2; ISO 100; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND-1040

Black-tailed Prairie Dog in Teddy Roosevelt at sunset. Underexposing helped highlight the rim light of this cute little guy giving his alarm call.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; handheld]

PHOTOSHOP CHANGES

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass SATURATED spot color Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass B&W spot color Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass MUTED Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Which of these 3 Mountain Bluebird shots do you like best? The bird was left untouched in Photoshop, but the grass was desaturated to different levels in two shots. My mind is not made up, but I still think I like the top image. By the way, laying in the grass to get eye-level shots is also a creative wildlife photography technique. I love how the foreground and background have blurred out.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

IPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY

Landscape Lamar River iPhone panorama Yellowstone National Park WY -6402

I just got the iPhone 7+ before leaving on this trip (replacing my “ancient” iPhone 5) and man, do I love it! The camera in the phone now has two lenses (one a “telephoto”), improved resolution, fantastic “Portrait” mode (try it!), and awesome video, including time-lapse, slow motion, and even 4K video!

This is a panorama of the Lamar River in the Lamar Valley.

TELEPHOTO LANDSCAPES

Okay, this is not a “creative wildlife shot” but it is a creative use of your telephoto lens. Isolating landscape/scenery with a long lens can give you a new perspective (fresh vision) of a place you’ve visited many times.

Rocks and sedges pattern Yellowstone National Park WY -05079

BLACK AND WHITE

Some images just don’t work well in color…so why not try them in black and white? Snowy wildlife scenes really lend themselves to this technique.

Bison high key snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05160

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 43mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f7.1; ISO 1250; handheld]

Bison head black and white Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0797

Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld

Bison herd crossing B&W Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05215

Bison herd crossing COLOR Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05214

Did converting this image of a Bison herd crossing the Madison to black and white help? Or do you prefer the color version?

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld]

GET HIGH!

No, I did not bring a drone into Yellowstone! But this is an effective trick for getting faux aerial images. I put on my widest lens (in this case a Rokinon 12mm lens), then attach the camera to the tripod and extend all the legs to maximum length (if you have a center post crank that up too). Now set your exposure in Manual mode, put on the self timer for 5 or 10 seconds, push the shutter and then hold the tripod as high over your head as possible. Wait until the shutter clicks. It takes many tries (to get the right angle and to get the horizon somewhat straight (and your arms get a real workout!)

Stream snow red sedges Yellowstone National Park WY -05607

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/125 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

Stream snow red sedges Yellowstone National Park WY -05614

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/125 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

Thermal pool surrounded by snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05622

You could not get this shot without using the tripod-over-your-head trick.

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/60 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

DETAILS

Bison hair fur close up Yellowstone National Park WY -0303

We don’t always have to show the face of an animal for it to be an effective wildlife photo. This is detail of a Bison’s beautiful hair.

BLUR, BABY, BLUR

Want the feeling of the energy of a moving mammal or bird? Try slowing your shutter down and panning with the critter. I shot this Grizzly cub at 1/20 second at f14.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0593

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